This is not your typical Riverdale finale.
First of all, it was directed by star Madchen Amick in her directorial debut. Second of all, it wasn't meant to be a Riverdale finale in the first place. Production was forced to shut down due to the pandemic with two and a half episodes left to film, so instead of a reveal-packed hour meant to solve some mysteries and set up some new ones for the next season, tonight's finale is a different kind of story.
It follows nearly all of the Riverdale High students we know and love facing off against Principal Honey (Kerr Smith) when he tries to cancel prom, which for them is just the last straw in terms of things he's canceled. But at the same time, Jughead has to write a story for a college application, and so he writes a tale about the ultimate revenge against a strict principal. The two versions of events, real and fictional, play out at the same time, and it was up to director Amick to interweave it all, alongside the continued story of those creepy video tapes being distributed throughout town.
Amick started acting in front of the camera when she was 16 in 1987, and says directing is something that she always knew in the back of her mind was something she wanted to do.
"It just started getting more and more prevalent I would say in the past 10 years, so I've just been working toward that goal, and I'm so very thankful and grateful to be given the opportunity by [showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa] and Berlanti Productions and The CW, and I'm so excited it's finally here," she says.
Finally getting behind the camera felt "very fulfilling," she explains, because she always reads scripts visually.
"I'm really visual and I can see it play out, and so to actually have the opportunity to bring that vision to life in all the different layering that you do in the prep work and on set, it felt very fulfilling," she says.
Having starred on Twin Peaks for so long, Amick learned from a legend—the same legend who gave last week's episode of Riverdale its title: "Lynchian."
"He's given me a base to filmmaking that I soaked in as a brand new 16 year old girl fresh out of Reno, Nevada," she says of Twin Peaks creator David Lynch. "Coming to Hollywood, Twin Peaks was one of the main things I had done up to that point, so I guess I've always seen things differently because of that experience, which I think is really great and inspiring because I don't really have much of a fear because I got to see him do such groundbreaking filmmaking, especially on television. Nobody was doing the kind of stuff that he was doing, so I definitely have that in my base and see everything through that lens."
Just about half of the episode is a fantasy that parallels but goes far beyond what's actually happening to the characters, and at first, Amick wanted it to look like a fantasy until she had a conversation with Aguirre-Sacasa.
"I just went to an immediate, like, I wanted to go full-on. Something different, with anamorphic lenses and all this kind of stuff, and he had to rein me back in a little bit," she says. "He was like no, I want it to feel a little bit questioning whether you're watching fantasy or reality, it could be either. So then I started running with that idea, coming up with some fun trick shots where we follow somebody from present day to fantasy and then back again."
She also wanted the wardrobe to play into the fantasy aspect of the episode, partly to help the actors and partly to bring in some iconic looks
"It was very confusing for everyone, so what I wanted to do to try to help was really heightening reality in the fantasies, so I was careful to choose wardrobe choices that I felt were pushing the envelope a little bit and having the characters feel even more iconic, a wink at the Archie comics, and I think that helped a little bit."
She also had to remind the cast that in some scenes, they could go a little harder than they might normally go. Sometimes that included herself, and she says she had trouble memorizing lines while her brain was in "director mode." And one specific cast member did not help.
"I think the only person that purposely gave me a hard time was Skeet, because that's him," she says. "He's always been like a brother, where he's always picking at me on purpose, so of course, he had to challenge me, but other than that it was a really fun experience."
Amick was three days into four days of editing when production shut down, and the rest of the crew was halfway through shooting the next episode. They didn't know at the time if it would only be a temporary shut down, and no one knew for a while how they would choose to end the season. At one point, Amick wondered if they wouldn't even air her episode and choose to end with the musical, but despite being chosen as the season finale, the episode was pretty much kept intact, she says.
"It just coincidentally ended up being a good cliffhanger," she says. "It tied up some loose ends, but it was also teasing some new things in the story, so I think it ended up being kind of a happy accident."
Plus, a good time.
"It was just really fun to torture poor Mr. Honey for this entire episode," she says. "And he had a fun time. He had a fun time doing it too."
Riverdale airs tonight at 8 p.m. on The CW.